Trying to understand complicated stuff

Give me a good, old fashioned rest period any day.

That is to say: a dot, at the end of a sentence, so my overworked brain can rest before going on.

Just give me, please, a momentary neuron break so my cognitive brain cells can catch up to what my eyes are gathering.

For I am a tired, weary reader, among the huddled, online masses yearning to be free from confusion.

I have noticed, you see, a certain confusing tendency these days among bloggers, authors, journalists, commenters and other keyboard-tapping idea-flingers. This lamentable tendency is a neglect of periods. People nowadays whack out lengthy run-on phrases and clauses, strung together without the little dots that give us pause.  And yea, I say unto thee, sometimes they do it  even without commas!

This trend confuses me when I am reading and trying to understand messages that people have posted on the ubiquitous little backlit screens that you see everywhere.

It especially baffles me when I’m reading comments that are whacked out by opinionated internet denizens as they respond to the polarizing rhetoric of other internet denizens about the controversial issues of our day like politics religion and how much money should be printed and whether parents should be given choice for their children’s schools and how Congress should spend our tax money and whether Mitt’s comment about the 47% was appropriate and how the President does or does not use a telemprompter and the price of labor in China and the price of tea in Berkeley and the the price of education in Chicago and Milton Friedman’s influence and Paul Krugman’s dogma and and so forth and so on.

Rampant ideas, I say. Ideas are running rampant, without punctuation to separate, sharpen, and clarify them.

Yesterday I was reading a book, an actual, long, chapter by chapter  book, although not a printed one. It was my on my Kindle.

There  I was reading Sheila Bair’s excellent, very informative book, Bull by the Horns,  when, in chapter 9, I came across this sentence:

“But probably the biggest problem related to a fairly technical provision of bankruptcy law that gave all of Lehman’s derivative counterparties the right to cancel their contracts and liquidate any collateral Lehman had posted with them.”

This problem that Ms. Bair is describing is a troublesome one with which our bankers and lawyers were dealing, back in the fall of 2008.

And it is complicated, but I do think it is important that we citizens of this free republic understand the problem.

So I decided to demonstrate, using that sentence as an example, how multi-layered explanations can be made simpler, and thus easier to understand. The first principle is: write shorter sentences.

See if my  version isn’t a little a little easier to comprehend:

But probably the biggest problem related to a fairly technical provision of bankruptcy law. That provision gave to all of Lehman’s derivative counterparties the right to cancel their contracts, and to liquidate any collateral Lehman had posted with them.

Notice the period after the word law. This period helps me, the reader, for two reasons. One reason is that it gives my brain a little neuron break before engaging the next sentence, which is long, multi-layered, and laced with two-dollar words like derivative and counterparties. The second reason that the period helps me is: it clarifies the function of the verb related.

The inquisitive mind wants to know, you see, whether that word related  will prove to be the predicate of the sentence, or if it is being set up as a participle in a subordinate clause to modify the noun problem. However, my re-written version simplifies the reader’s dilemma by inserting a period, thus ending the sentence after the word law. This shortening effect enables the reader to solve his/her syntactical dilemma early on, instead of having the related question suspended all the way through such dense verbiage as derivatives, counter parties, contracts, collateral and so forth.

Another simplification I added to Ms. Bair’s original text was an insertion of the preposition to, in front of the phrase all of Lehman’s derivative counterparties. This identifies all (of Lehman’s derivative counterparties) as an indirect object instead of a direct object in the sentence. The counterparties are receiving something, that something being the right to cancel their contracts. And that right is more easily understand now as the direct object (whatever is being received) in the sentence. Furthermore, a second right that the counterparties receive is the right of liquidationSo my version inserts the preposition to a second times, rendering to liquidate.


I am not criticizing Sheila Bair’s writing style, nor her book, which I highly recommend. We citizens of a free, democratic republic should be informed about the problems that so easily inflict widespread financial cataclysm upon us.  Ms. Bair’s unique perspective as Director of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during the tumultuous years 2006-2011 is quite an eye-opener.

To further reinforce this last point, I leave you with this passage from Bull by the Horns, from the first page of Sheila’s chapter 9, which she named Bailing out the Boneheads:

“Lehman’s balance sheet was nontransparent to the market, primarily because of accounting rules that allowed Lehman to hold complex mortgage-related investments at valuations that bore no reality to their true worth.”

And therein lies the real problem of trying to understand complicated stuff.

Glass half-Full


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